The Science Behind How Just Being Near Water Can Help Mental health — Even Virtually

We’ve long known that being in nature is good for our mental health. No matter where you live, it’s one of the best and most accessible ways to boost your mood. Even urban green spaces like parks and gardens have a measurable effect on our well-being.

However, research shows that blue spaces — water — are just as beneficial, with particular advantages for soothing a troubled mind and promoting a sense of relaxation. According to experts, if you’re in or near a body of water, you inherently feel calmer and more at ease.

Being by water has other effects on our internal state, too, that are useful for people dealing with stress, anxiety, depression and a number of other mental health concerns. If you’ve always felt better around a lake or the ocean, Sokya’s here to help you understand why.

Being Near Water Enhances Mental Wellness

Throughout history, healers around the world have recognized the therapeutic effects of water. The Greeks sought natural springs and baths to restore the mind and body, while the Japanese practiced misogi, an ancient water cleansing ritual that persists today.

Modern research shows that our ancestors were onto something. A growing body of evidence supports the claim that blue spaces are good for our mental wellness. Here’s how.

Water Creates a Sense of Awe

It’s hard to describe why it happens, but being around water gives us a sense of awe and lets us feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. If even for a moment, this discourages strict self-interest, instead promoting outward thinking and prosocial behaviors. It also helps to improve empathy, humility and overall life satisfaction.

Water Provides a Soothing, Calming Experience

The five senses are critically important to how we perceive the world. That’s why the sensory effects of water can have such an impact on our psyche. The sights, sounds and smell of water provide a calming experience that promotes a uniquely positive state of mind. And if the salty sea air or lapping waves remind you of something familiar, such as spending time at the beach as a child, it can trigger happy, vivid memories.

Water Encourages Mindfulness and Self-Reflection

Water is dynamic, so it holds our attention in a peculiar way. It tends to have a dream-like quality that allows us to quiet our minds. For example, when you’re focused on the movement of water, you’re able to live in the moment and tune out all the other noise. Being near water can also facilitate a meditative state of gentle awareness by engaging the brain but not overwhelming it, providing an opportunity for introspection.

Water Enhances Physical Activity

If you’re spending more time near water, you might be encouraged to engage with it physically by swimming, floating or diving. This is good for your mental and physical health, which are closely connected. In fact, swimming is one of the best ways to work out the entire body, helping to build endurance, strengthen your muscles and keep your heart rate up.

Where to Find Water

If you live on the coast, blue spaces are everywhere, so they’re easy to find. That’s not always the case for people further inland or in big cities. However, you can reap the benefits of blue spaces even if you don’t have a natural body of water around. Here are some of the most common places you can go.

The Ocean

The ocean is perhaps the biggest and most obvious blue space, accessible to millions of people living in coastal areas. Proximity to water — especially the ocean — is associated with many positive effects on physical and mental well-being.

Lakes, Rivers and Streams

Access to freshwater is vital for survival. So even though we’ve expanded inland and created increasingly urbanized spaces, water is never too far away. Studies estimate that more than half the world’s population lives less than 3 km from a body of freshwater. If you don’t live near the ocean, chances are that you can find a river, lake or stream nearby.

Water Features

Fortunately for many of us, urban water counts, too. The water you can find in cities — such as canals, fountains and even pools — also enhances our mental wellness. It’s so effective that urban planners are looking for ways to establish “blue infrastructure” in their communities with water features that everyone can access and enjoy.

Watching or Listening to Water Digitally

If finding blue spaces is challenging, you can get some of the same benefits by watching or listening to water online. The sights and sounds of water are often used to help people sleep, focus or relax, so video or audio clips can be readily found on almost all media channels. Experts say that just a few hours of exposure each week can make a real difference.

Integrating Blue Spaces into Your Mental Wellness Plan

Blue spaces provide benefits that are great for our mood and thinking. However, they aren’t a substitute for mental health care. If you struggle with concerns like anxiety or depression, being near water can help you feel calmer, more relaxed and balanced, but proven treatment options are also an important part of your mental wellness plan.

For example, working with a therapist, psychiatrist or coach can help you develop the tools needed to maintain your mental health on a long-term basis. They can also help you get the maximum therapeutic benefit from blue or green spaces. Some even incorporate the healing power of nature in their treatment plans to help people heal in unique and powerful ways.

Medication management, support groups and coaching are also beneficial, depending on your individual needs and goals. At Sokya, we can help you create your own mental wellness circle to help you connect with the right services and find your balance.

It’s true what they say: a room with a view really can help you feel less blue. More evidence is emerging that exposure to water — in person or virtually — has a positive and measurable effect on our mental, emotional and behavioral health. These ‘blue spaces’ are becoming a common way for people to alleviate their stress and achieve a state of inner calm. If you’d like to learn more about the healing effects of water and how Sokya can incorporate blue spaces into your treatment plan, contact us today. Click to complete our online contact form and connect with a Care Coordinator or call (866) 65-SOKYA to get started.

More than 50% of Americans struggle with mental health.

Headlight is now collaborating with health plans and companies to make therapy more accessible and affordable. Speak to a Care Coordinator today.